Doctor of Philosophy | Teachers College Columbia University

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In the Department of Health & Behavior Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

The increasing prevalence of chronic disease and obesity worldwide has added urgency to the need for qualified researchers trained in understanding the complex interaction of biology, environment, and personal behavior, as well as skilled in the development of interventions to potentially attenuate the rapidly rising rates of obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes in both adults and children. 

The program prepares scholars to conduct research on the critical issues related to:

  • determinants of health behaviors related to nutrition and to physical activity;
  • relationships among food- and nutrition-related behaviors and health outcomes using techniques of behavioral epidemiology;
  • design and implementation of theory-based behavioral nutrition and physical activity interventions
  • methodological considerations in the design and evaluation of interventions.

There are three specializations:

  1. Behavioral Nutrition
  2. Nutritional Epidemiology
  3. Nutrition and Physical Activity

The graduates from this program will be leaders who will assume professorial and research roles in universities and colleges within departments of nutrition epidemiology, foods and nutrition, and physical activity, as well as assume research roles in centers for research on behavioral aspects of obesity, chronic disease prevention, and health promotion. Thus, the program aims to prepare researchers with basic and applied behavioral skills within an educational context.

Admission Requirements

Admission to the Ph.D. program involves completing the application form available online and submitting all regular admission materials, such as transcripts from all institutions attended, three letters of recommendations, and writing sample, which can be a thesis, substantial paper, or published article.

The student should have a master’s degree in nutrition or a closely related discipline from an accredited institution, along with the necessary prerequisite undergraduate courses in general, organic and biochemistry, nutrition and statistics, and human physiology. Admissions will be based on grades, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and an appropriate match between the applicant’s interests, the research work of the Ph.D. faculty, and funding availability. The student should normally have scores of 600 or above on each of the quantitative and verbal components of the general GRE test and 5 or 6 on the analytical component. The student will generally be expected to be full-time and to work on ongoing research projects of the faculty.

Program of Study

The general requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy include a minimum of 75 graduate credits, of which at least 45 must be taken under Teachers College registration.

For the Ph.D., the total classroom course requirement is 45-51 credits, including prior master’s degree work and 24-30 credits (advanced topical seminars, research seminar and dissertation advisement) devoted to research-related courses and activities. Students will also be expected to pass a certification examination and an advanced seminar and to write a dissertation.

Students will be expected to take courses in the following categories:

  1. Core courses: 33 points
  2. Courses to develop depth within each specialization: 15-21 points
  3. Research preparation: 21-27 points

The specific courses selected will depend on the student’s particular background, interests and goals. In consultation with a faculty advisor, students should develop a program plan early in their course of study to provide a rational basis for their course selection.

Research Training and Apprenticeship

The primary modality for training for Ph.D. students is working with their sponsor in some ongoing research project: Students will work closely with one faculty member on an ongoing research project to gain practical experience in the development of study instruments, intervention protocols, data collection, data management and analysis, manuscript preparation and submission, and presentation of results at relevant scientific meetings. During their first year after completing basic core coursework, students will also participate in two semester-long part-time internships with other Columbia research labs to gain additional research perspectives. (Visit the website for the Program in Nutrition for more detailed descriptions of the Ph.D. requirements.)